French chef takes on country's rise in junk food
A leading French chef has warned that 70pc of the country's restaurant food is now 'industrial fodder' as he launched a Jamie Oliver-style crusade against junk food.
Michelin-starred gastronomic restaurants are a fig leaf that hide an army of French eateries, including more and more chains, that sell poor-quality, often factory-produced food more often than not touted as "fait maison" – home-made.
That is according to Xavier Denamur, 48, the self-styled white knight of wholesome, traceable, French food prepared in-house and supposedly the country's trademark.
Mr Denamur is the iconoclastic star of République de Malbouffe (Republic of Crap Food), a documentary released on Wednesday directed by Jacques Goldstein, which claims to investigate the "smokes and mirrors behind … a state with lobbyists but no parliament, with restaurants but no chefs, with farmers but no fresh food. A noxious regime whose motto could be opacity, precarity, obesity."
The film squarely blames falling gastronomic standards in restaurant kitchens on President Nicolas Sarkozy's move to cut restaurant sales tax from 19.6pc to 5.5pc.
Mr Denamur is filmed berating Christine Lagarde, the former French finance minster and now head of the International Monetary Fund, for playing into the hands of fast food chains and powerful food industry lobbies.
The three billion-euro VAT fiscal gift, whose aim was to help restaurants drop prices and take on more, higher-paid and qualified staff, has only seen menu prices fall by 1pc, while workers have only taken a 10pc cut, he claims.
"(Big food groups) have gobbled up the little independent restaurants to end up serving uniform food, produced externally in a laboratory," says Mr Denamur, who owns five successful restaurants in Paris's trendy Marais district.
Low wages, insufficient training and meal preparation times have led to restaurants increasingly relying on tinned or frozen produce leaving customers totally in the dark about its origins, the documentary contends.
"Malbouffe" has led to rising obesity in France, he says, backing up his claims with nutrionists.
The documentary backs Fernand Siré, an MP from Mr Sarkozy's UMP party, who has tried to get parliament to pass a law obliging restaurants to say whether their food uses fresh ingredients and is made in situ.
According to Rue89 magazine, lobbyists had the bill fatally watered down, arguing it would torpedo "France's attractiveness, the reputation of our cuisine".
Mr Denamur argues for the introduction of two labels, "cuisine maison" for home-made fare and "industrial food".
Bertrand Simon, a cook who runs the hit website Chef Simon, welcomed the film at a right time "our profession is falling into the hands of multinationals".
But reviews have been mixed. Télérama magazine wrote the film "serves its cause but not cinema".